New Albany girls basketball coach Phil Sikorski has a nickname for sophomore forward Lauren Wood, one he considers perhaps the most important he could bestow on a player.
"She's our 'security blanket,' " Sikorski said. "Every team has to have a person like Lauren. I get 100 percent effort out of her every night, (regardless of) whether her shots are falling. I know she's going to rebound. I know she's going to defend. She takes the ball out of bounds for me. When you look at her stats, she fills every box, every night."
Wood has taken on a central role in her first year as a starter, averaging 6.1 points, 3.2 rebounds and 1.1 steals through 20 games. New Albany was 10-10 overall before playing Pickerington Central on Feb. 4 and is 5-4 in the OCC-Capital Division entering its league finale Friday, Feb. 7, at Canal Winchester, which won the first matchup 57-35 on Jan. 3.
Wood, who also had taken six charges entering the week, acknowledged that her statistics aren't nearly what she expects from herself, but embraces Sikorski's definition of her role.
"I think that means I'm the person my teammates can always go to. I take it with great pride that (Sikorski) says that because it means I'm reliable. I want to be," Wood said. "There's always room to grow. I'm not where I want to be, but I am happy with it. I am happy I have something in almost every category ... but I want more."
In limited time off the bench as a freshman, Wood averaged 2.8 points. 2.7 rebounds, 0.7 steals and 0.5 rebounds. She scored in double digits once, with 12 points in a 79-55 loss to Reynoldsburg.
Wood began this season with a 14-point, seven-rebound outing in a 52-41 win over Licking Heights on Nov. 26. It was the latter statistic that impressed Sikorski most, given that Wood was helping pick up the slack inside as senior and expected starter Maddy Hofmann recovered from an injury.
"I got playing time good enough for a freshman but obviously, I wanted more and I've gotten that this year," Wood said. "(A lot of it is) just confidence. Last year, I was so hesitant and that came from a lot of different things. This year, I have felt the freedom to do what I need to do."
Senior guard Haley Dennis said Wood left a lasting impression on her teammates last year, which also served to raise their expectations.
"I can always count on her. She'll always show up to play even if she isn't having the best shooting night," Dennis said. "She's not as vocal as maybe she should be, but that's OK because other players definitely feed off of her. I know I feed off her. When she takes a charge, everyone is there to pick her up. She does the little things that keep us going."
The Eagles earned the 22nd seed in the 48-team Division I district tournament and will play host to 31st-seeded Olentangy Berlin in a first-round game Feb. 15. Wood had 13 points in a 47-46 win over the Bears on Jan. 11.
According to Sikorski, Wood has played both forward spots and shooting guard this season and is key to helping break the press.
"Like most kids, she thinks points are the way to (help the team) but on this team, you never know who will score so we need to have somebody who's going to rebound at both ends, somebody who's going to defend and she does that," Sikorski said. "She knows where everybody is supposed to be and could tell you what every player is supposed to do on every set. She would run the point if we let her. She'll do everything we ask."
Swimmers prepare for sectional
The boys and girls swimming teams will compete in a Division I sectional Saturday, Feb. 8, at Thomas Worthington, coming off a regular season in which they swept the OCC-Capital titles for the fifth consecutive year, the girls went 6-0 in dual meets and the boys finished 3-3.
"We've had a lot of really good meets this year. We've been happy with everybody stepping up, not just all of the top qualifiers but everybody who was trying to do their job. That was good in helping us put the (sectional) lineup together," coach Dave Wharton said. "The struggle for us is that our depth is good, which is a blessing and a curse. We only get four entries, which is what everybody gets, so we're not ahead of or behind anybody else. Now it's about putting the best lineup out there for the end of the season."
There will be 15 boys teams and 14 girls teams competing in the Thomas sectional.
The winner of each event automatically qualifies for the district meet Feb. 13 at Ohio State. In addition, 27 at-large district berths will be awarded in each event based on times from the Central, East and Southeast sectional sites.
Divers do not compete until district. The boys district meet is Wednesday, Feb. 12, at Ohio State, followed by the girls the next day.
Wrestlers heading to team tournament
The wrestling team will meet a familiar foe in its opener of the Division I, Region 5 team dual tournament Saturday, Feb. 8, at Marysville, and then see them again five days later.
Seeded 10th of 14 teams, New Albany will take on seventh-seeded Big Walnut in the second round. The winner will face second-seeded Delaware in a quarterfinal.
Semifinals and the final will take place later in the day. The regional champion will advance to the state tournament Feb. 16 at Ohio State.
This will be the third time in four years that the OCC-Capital rivals have met in the team tournament. Big Walnut won 35-34 last year and 48-24 in 2017.
They will meet again in the final league dual of the season Feb. 13 at Big Walnut, which is 4-0 in the OCC-Capital.
New Albany dropped to 1-3 in the league with a 52-28 home loss to Groveport on Jan. 30.
Below are the coming schedules for the New Albany boys basketball and hockey teams:
*Feb. 7 -- Home vs. Canal Winchester. The Eagles lost to the Indians 62-61 on Jan. 3.
Feb. 11 -- At Grove City
*Feb. 7 -- Olentangy Berlin at Chiller North
*Feb. 8 -- Springboro at Chiller Easton